We all need advice from time to time. We need people in our lives that can speak into dilemmas or challenges we must confront to give us insight, a different perspective, or direction. Proverbs talks a lot about the importance of having advisors and asserts:
“Plans fail for lack of counsel, but with many advisors they succeed” (Prov 19:20).
In Managing Oneself, Peter F. Drucker states that some people need advisors to force themselves to think, “then they can make decisions and act on them with speed, self-confidence, and courage (pg 20). That’s me. I often need someone who knows the right questions to ask to help me order my thoughts and priorities without necessarily trying to give me “the answer.”
But how do we know who to listen to? How do we recognize someone who we can trust to give us wise counsel?
I have been intrigued by this account in the Old Testament of a newly crowned king facing his first complaint from his subjects. He doesn’t know how to respond so he asks advice from two very different groups of advisors and the contrast is like night and day. Any reader can easily discern the good advice from the bad– but like this king, too often we don’t recognize who we should and should NOT listen to.
In I Kings 12, King Solomon had died and Rehoboam, his son was crowned King of Israel. Upon his accession, subjects came to him requesting relief from the heavy burdens his father had laid on them during his reign. They asked him to ease their harsh working conditions offering loyalty and service in return.
Rehoboam wasn’t sure of what to do so he sought advice from elders who had served his father during his lifetime. They replied, “If today you will be a servant to these people and serve them and give them a favorable answer, they will always be your servants” (v 7).
But he didn’t like their recommendation and decided to ask his friends, men who had grown up with him and their answer was, “Tell these people who have said to you, ‘Your father put a heavy yoke on us, but make our yoke lighter,’ — tell them, ‘My little finger is thicker than my father’s waist. My father laid on you a heavy yoke; I will make it even heavier. My father scourged you with whips; I will scourge you with scorpions’”(v 10-11).
Which advice would you have taken? Which do you think he acted on?
You guessed it, he listened to his friends. Most of us look at that and think “WHY would he do that??”
Yet, Rehoboam approached this the same way most of us do today. We often do not know who we should actually listen to, and so we make the wrong choice which can cost us dearly- as it did this inexperienced king.
Comparing the two different groups of advisors in this example, there are 3 major characteristics that separate the terrific from the terrible.
1) Objectvitiy – the elders were objective in their answer to the complaint against the king. They understood the people’s grievance and that it was not intended to be an affront, but a report of their experience and an appeal for relief. The response from his friends was highly subjective— emotional and irrational, and yielded a defensive proposition that would strike back at those who dared to criticize the king.
Often when seeking advise from friends, we fall prey to emotional and irrational advice. It often sounds like “protect yourself,” “you don’t deserve this,” or turns an impersonal issue into something personal. They may affirm our feelings and our fears, which are important to showing empathy, but they do not often produce solid, objective advice or a reasonable solution.
2) Experience – the elders had served King Solomon throughout his reign, so they were experienced in state matters and kingship. They had seen a lot with the rise and fall of the wealthiest, wisest, and most powerful king in the history of the world. However, the young group of Rehoboam’s friends had grown up with him, enjoying the privileges of being associated with royalty, yet unaware of the true weight of leadership or the spiritual responsibility of governing God’s chosen nation. They were the privileged and entitled youth of their generation.
We do this often when we ask our bachelor friends advice on parenting, or financial advice from one who is buried in debt, or worse, ask a question of morality and character of someone who does not share our beliefs in specific moral absolutes nor do they practice any form of it.
3) Future-Focused – the elders looked to the future and based their recommendations on what would develop honor and loyalty for the king throughout his reign, but his friends couldn’t see past the present moment. They insisted on immediate respect and submission, by coercion and threat of pain. Their response was intimidating and cruel.
Those who see the “big picture” steer us away from rash decisions or a quick fix. When the wound is deep and complicated, they recommend surgery. Most often though, we choose to listen to those who are focused on the here and now, focused on immediate gratification, so they recommend a small bandage that temporarily slows the bleeding.
When seeking counsel, we need objectivity, not subjectivity, we need those with experience they can leverage for our benefit, and we need to see the bigger picture— the long term impact of the action we must consider.
Friends are great for sharing our feelings and emotions, but far too often, their advice is colored by the desire to alleviate our discomfort and pain. This doesn’t mean that we can’t ever ask friends for counsel- but they may not always give the best advice.
In the end, the people rejected the King (and his friends’) response and ultimately revolted. Only one of the twelve tribes of Israel remained loyal to him. This was the beginning of the end of a united Israel and led to centuries of fighting, captivity, and struggles of the people to remain faithful to God.
The people we listen to and the advice they give may affect not only today but tomorrow.
“The teaching of the wise is a fountain of life, turning a man from the snares of death.” Proverbs 13:14
What about you? What other characteristics have you noticed in others who have given you great advice?